Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
The most recent generation of Americans are known as Generation Z, but as it pertains to sport, they might as well be known as a Generation of Specialists. It seems throughout the country, children are steered at an early age toward one sport in which they train and play the entire year. While being a specialist in any sport or profession is a good thing, there is tremendous value in being well-rounded. Competing in multiple sports throughout the year prepares your body and mind in a different way.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford once said, “My favorite was always whichever sport was in season. ... By playing different sports ... you become a better all-around athlete.”
Throughout the years, many great athletes have competed in multiple sports, not only during their developmental years, but also as professionals. For example, Pro Football Hall of Fame legend Jim Thorpe was not only exceptional on the gridiron for the Canton Bulldogs and other teams, but he also played baseball for the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves — in addition to winning gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon during the 1912 Olympic Games. More recently, Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson both excelled as players in the National Football League and Major League Baseball.
However, one man, Robert “Cal” Hubbard, holds the distinction of being the only person selected to both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, albeit not as a player. Hubbard grew up on a small farm near Keytesville, Mo., and loved participating in baseball and football. While he didn’t play both sports professionally, his love of competition and for upholding the integrity of sports helped pave the way for his unprecedented honors.
Hubbard, at 6-foot-2, 253 pounds, was one of the most feared linemen of his time. Cal signed with the New York Giants as a rookie despite the fact the team already was well-stocked at the tackle position. Showing his versatility, the big man moved to the end position on offense and linebacker on defense. A powerful blocker, Hubbard was credited with being one of the first men to pull out of the line and lead interference for the ball carrier. He also was the first to pursue the runner in the days when a tackle generally was rooted to his interior position.
The Giants’ defense went from good to great with the addition of Hubbard. New York posted 10 shutouts in 13 games in 1927 and allowed a mere 20 points over the entire season en route to the franchise’s first NFL title. Hubbard earned all-league honors in the two seasons he suited up for New York.
In 1929, at his request, Hubbard was traded to Green Bay Packers, where coach Earl (Curly) Lambeau was building a championship organization. Lambeau moved Hubbard back to tackle, where he helped them become the first NFL team to win three consecutive NFL championships (1929, 1930 and 1931). Hubbard enjoyed his best seasons with the Packers from 1929-1933. During that time, he earned first-team all-league acclaim as a guard in 1929 and at tackle in 1931, 1932, and 1933.
During the offseason, Hubbard stayed in Green Bay to umpire minor league baseball games. In 1936, after his final year playing pro football and eighth year as a minor league umpire, he was called up to the major leagues, where he began a new career as an umpire in the American League. He almost became more famous as a baseball umpire than he had been as a football player.
As he had been in his football career, Hubbard was dedicated and well-respected as an umpire. He had a special knack for dealing with tough situations on the field. He was extremely efficient and was an authority when it came to the rule book. He excelled for 16 seasons, during which time he umpired four World Series and three All-Star Games. Unfortunately, a hunting accident led to his premature retirement from the field. Hubbard, though, later served as assistant umpire supervisor in 1952 and as umpire supervisor from 1953 to 1969.
Hubbard was enshrined as a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. Thirteen years later, in 1976, Cal was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Through sports, Hubbard developed character that lead him to great heights. It was his commitment to the team that earned him admiration from him teammates, but it was his courage and integrity that brought respect from his opponents.